U.S. Defense Review Serious About Climate Change

National security blueprint finds climate change "inextricably" linked to energy and economic concerns.
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National security blueprint finds climate change "inextricably" linked to energy and economic concerns.

In October, Miller-McCune.com considered how global warming might affect American national security, noting that there is “growing concern in Washington” that it could destabilize governments and societies all over the world.

The “clearest evidence that [Washington] is taking climate change seriously as a security threat,” Miller-McCune.com wrote at the time, “will come in February, when the Pentagon issues its Quadrennial Defense Review to Congress.”

The QDR, which is considered the most important long-term national security strategy document the military produces, was released this week. It’s remarkable for how much of it is dedicated to climate change and how directly the authors — who represent every branch of the military — address the issue.

“Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment,” the QDR declares. “Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

Echoing previous reports by scientists and defense-oriented think tanks, the QDR focuses special attention on climate change’s potential to sow violent instability by reconfiguring global weather and climate patterns:

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could … contribute to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

The report goes on to outline ways in which the military can both reduce its dependence on fossil fuel and prepare to adapt to political and social disruptions caused by climate change. “The actions that the [Defense] Department takes now can prepare us to respond effectively to these challenges in the near term and in the future,” the authors write.

Since October, when Miller-McCune weighed in on the issue, polls have shown that the number of Americans who consider global warming a real and imminent threat actually dropped in 2009. Reflecting that lack of urgency, many political experts now consider it unlikely that Congress will pass significant legislation this year to price and regulate carbon emissions.

If the QDR gets any play from the press, it could help convince skeptical Americans — both in and out of public office — that climate change is not a fiction cooked up by environmentalists. It represents the consensus opinion of the American military establishment, and it declares in no uncertain terms that climate change is a grave danger, set to “act as an accelerant of global instability and conflict.”

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